Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Power of the Iraqi Press

Having just acknowledged the reaction of Iraqi journalist Ahmed Rushdi to the "Hard Lessons" report, I feel some obligation now to recognize another reporter, Muntadar al-Zeidi, a correspondent for Al-Baghdadiya television. Al-Zeidi had the opportunity to speak truth directly to the power of George W. Bush when the President gave a press conference as part of his visit to Iraq. According to the Associated Press, as rendered in a report on Al Jazeera English, he chose a unique and culturally significant way to do so:

George Bush, the US president, has had a pair of shoes hurled at him at a press conference during his last surprise visit to Iraq before leaving office in January.

An Iraqi reporter called Bush "a dog" and shouted out "this is the end" at Sunday's news conference in Baghdad, before hurling his shoes at the US leader.

Bush, who had been giving a joint press statement with Nuri Al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister, ducked behind a podium as the shoes narrowly missed his head.

He was reported to be unhurt after the attack by Muntadar al-Zeidi, a correspondent for Al-Baghdadiya television, the Associated Press news agency reported.

The outgoing US leader had just told reporters that while the war in Iraq was not over "it is decisively on its way to being won," when al-Zeidi got to his feet and hurled abuse - and his footwear - at the US president.

Sign of contempt

In Iraqi culture, throwing shoes at someone is a sign of contempt.

The incident will serve as a vivid reminder of the widespread opposition to the US-led invasion of, and subsequent war in, Iraq - the conflict which has come to define Bush's presidency.

Bush shrugged off the incident and quipped: "All I can report is that it's a size 10."

Most likely Bush did not grasp the cultural significance of the act. The rest of us can appreciate that the power of the press in Iraq appears to be stronger here than it has been within our mainstream media over the last eight years.

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